NEW LENOX – Joliet Catholic coach Dan Sharp cited the series of plays midway through the fourth quarter. That sequence summarized everything that transpired in Friday night’s 35-13 nonconference victory over Providence in the much-anticipated season opener.
With the Hilltoppers leading, 28-13, the Celtics were knocking on the door with a first-and-goal at the 9-yard line. Two completions by quarterback Steve Simowitz netted three yards against JCA’s aggressive secondary. An incompletion made it fourth down at the 6.
Simowitz threw another incomplete pass, but a Hilltoppers’ pass interference penalty gave the Celtics another fourth-down opportunity from the 3. Simowitz tossed a pass in the backfield to Richie Warfield, who turned upfield and ran toward the end zone.
Warfield is a hard-nosed runner, but on this occasion, linebacker Brad Krisch knocked him down at the 2, giving JCA the ball to preserve the 15-point lead.
On the next play, Michael Johnson rode blocks from fullback Josh Parenti and guard Ze’Veyon Furcron, among others, to a 98-yard touchdown run to clinch the victory.
“Krisch’s hit at the goal line – you never see that kid [Warfield] get knocked back like that – and then on the next play, Mike [Johnson] goes  yards, that right there summarizes the whole game,” Sharp said.
“Our defense was phenomenal, setting the tone with goal-line stands. And we made big plays on offense.”
Johnson, fellow wingback Harold Davis and quarterback Cade Earl formed a three-headed monster that shredded the Providence defense with big plays. JCA totaled 441 yards of offense, with 346 coming on seven plays – the shortest on Davis’ 24-yard TD run that made it 28-13 early in the fourth quarter.
In addition to his 98-yard excursion, Johnson scored on a 77-yard pass play from Earl on JCA’s first offensive play of the third quarter to extend the Hilltoppers’ 14-10 halftime lead to 21-10.
“We really do have an explosive offense,” Earl said. “Harry and Mike are great wideouts. When we ran power, power, we noticed they [Celtics] were flying up. We knew Mike would be open behind the defense on that long pass.”
Johnson finished with 210 yards in 15 carries, including a 49-yarder on a broken play in the early going, and the long touchdown reception. Davis caught four passes for 101 yards and a touchdown and scored on 8- and 24-yard runs. He rushed for 53 yards in 12 carries.
“We’re the dynamic duo,” Johnson said. “We suck the defense up, and we go right over the top. It feels great. We knew we had to make a statement coming in here.”
“They’re good, fast and physical,” Providence coach Mark Coglianese said of the Hilltoppers. “They have good skill-position players.
“We did some good things, but we made too many mistakes against a very good team. Too many penalties, and we gave up too many big plays.”
Earl finished 5 of 9 for 178 yards and three touchdowns.
Simowitz completed 14 of 27 for 219 yards and an 85-yard touchdown to Warfield on a screen pass, but was sacked eight times.
The Hilltoppers totaled nine sacks in all and limited the Celtics to a net of minus-1 yard rushing. Warfield netted 38 in 13 attempts, with 27 coming on one play.
“It was an unreal effort for our defense,” Krisch said. “We played awesome team defense. We were flowing to the ball.
“Our defensive line just overpowers people. The rest of us don’t have to cover very much or for very long when they rush the passer like that.”
Defensive ends Zach Lukasik and Luke Mander were in on seven sacks between them. Ken Aguirre, Tyler Witt, Keaton Coleman and Krisch also got involved in the sack party.
Lukasik forced a fumble on fourth-quarter sack that Krisch recovered.
“All the credit goes to our defense,” Earl said.
Providence had poor field position early, and the JCA defense made sure it stayed that way for a while. After Warfield scored on the 85-yard screen from Simowitz, the Celtics reached the JCA 22-yard line late in the second quarter but had to settle for a 39-yard PJ Kowalkowski field goal.
In the third quarter, Providence had first-and-goal at the 10 and eventually missed a field goal after being pushed backward. Then, a long Warfield kickoff return led to a fourth-and-5 at the 11. Kowalkowski nailed a field goal, but JCA roughed the kicker for a first-and-goal at the 5. The Hilltoppers’ defense held again, and Kowalkowski made a three-pointer that counted.
In that drive, the Celtics lost right tackle Travis Woerner, a two-year starter in the offensive line, to an apparent ankle injury.
“It does not look good,” Coglianese said.
The Celtics won the sophomore game, 54-22.